Winter’s dark shrouded St. Meinrad Archabbey Church and chilled its cruciform interior where I stood huddling in the shadows, with others. It was 1984, Advent, southern Indiana. Black-robed Benedictines had chanted the hour of Compline from their stalls, stashed away their Office books, then processed toward a side altar illumined by thick beeswax candles. Here stood a carved statue of the Black Madonna and Child, a replica of the one in Einsiedein, Switzerland, from which this foundation had been made in 1854. Before retiring, the monks always bade her good night—they were her faithful sons.



Strains of the eleventh-century antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater, sweetened the air, our hearts quickening with hope. Here was the crux of the Christmas mysteries we would shortly celebrate.

Then it was over. Everyone scattered within the shadows as I returned to the Guest House, still marveling at the experience. Clearly, this Madonna, also called the Gateway to Heaven and Star of the Sea, had power to help “…the fallen people striving to rise.” With my arthritic knees, I was among them.

Her presence continues heartening me during my end-time. When stung by fears, I ask her to wrap me within the folds of her copious mantle, then cling to her. Arms entwined, we hug and breathe in the darkness. The madness does leave, slowly.